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July 28, 2014, 2:17 p.m.
Mobile & Apps
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   July 28, 2014

If you’re the kind of person who reads Nieman Lab, you’re probably already sick of hearing terms like “mobile first” and “mobile majority.” Web traffic, including news traffic, is shifting from desktops and laptops to tablets and smartphones — particularly phones. For years, many news organizations viewed mobile as a weird adjunct of the “real” digital product, the one they saw on their screens at their desk; a generation of terrible mobile websites followed.

The trend lines are all going to mobile, and many (most?) news outlets are still behind. But a few others have gone in the other direction, with redesigns built for mobile first that, if we’re being honest, look kinda bad on bigger screens. NBC News, Sports Illustrated, Slate, The Wire, The Dallas Morning News’ (now dead) “premium” site: Reasonable people can disagree, but their hamburger-button-laden, box-and-overlay-choked recent redesigns seem to make more sense on your iPhone than your iMac.

It’s a tough balance: On one hand, news sites have a lot of catching up to do on mobile. On the other, desktops and laptops aren’t going away any time soon, at least for one key market segment: people who spend their work days in front of a computer. Out of the office, yes, phones and tablets rule, and their lead will continue to grow. But the rise of the workplace as a place to read news has been one of the defining trends for online news, and most every news site still seeks peak audience during work hours Monday to Friday.

I have a hard time getting too passionate about making that it’s-too-soon case — the overall trendline to mobile is still pretty overwhelming — but it is worth noting that (a) peak online news reading time is likely to remain traditional work hours, and (b) most people who are currently looking at a computer during those hours will likely keep doing so for quite a while. (Tim Cook may do 80 percent of his office work on a tablet, but slipping iPad sales would seem to indicate he’s an understandable edge case in a corporate environment.)

The result could be a more bifurcated market, not a scenario where online news is, say, 85 percent mobile in three years. (There may not be too much more evening-and-weekend laptop traffic left to bleed off; I suspect most of that has already switched to phones and tablets.)

This was prompted by this set of tweets started by Wolfgang Blau, director of digital strategy at The Guardian and previously online editor of Die Zeit in Germany.

That’s that difficult balance: building for mobile growth, making it a top priority, but doing it without underserving the 9-to-5 audience that’ll probably be looking at a big screen for some years to come.

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